Reducing tobacco-related death and disease in the Arab world requires an understanding of how these various countries have progressed in scientific tobacco research. Such understanding is instrumental for the development of an effective plan to respondto the issue based on research progress and garner public and political support for it. This study was limited to 560 documents extracted from Scopus, bearing affiliation addresses from MEA countries and, therefore, cannot be generalised to the tobacco literature covered by other databases such as Google Scholar. However, the study does give a clear picture about the characteristics of the documents from MEA countries published in foreign channels, especially those indexed by Scopus. Although the number of citations for each publication might differ from one search engine to another, the Scopus search engine remains one of the best available tools for analysing and tracking citations and comparing citations to different research groups and different institutions. Studies that compared PubMed, Scopus, Web of Knowledge, and Google Scholar found that PubMed remains an important resource for clinicians and researchers, while Scopus covers a wider journal range and offers the capability for citation analysis[2, 26, 32]. On the other hand, there are various reasons for using Scopus database exclusively in the current study. Firstly, it has been shown that Scopus can be used as the sole data source for bibliometric-based research in certain fields[29, 33], including tobacco use. Secondly, Scopus has a relatively large database of source journal and includes a more expanded spectrum of journals than PubMed and Web of Science. Thirdly, although other Internet-wide search engines such as Google Scholar may be useful for identifying 'grey literature’ (i.e. older, non-listed journals), this method is known to be very time-consuming when compared to some of the more scientifically orientated databases. It is obvious that Google Scholar makes citations only to articles that were electronically accessible. The use of Google Scholar to determine citations for a particular article is disappointing, because of its inadequacies, its inclusion of non-scholarly citations, and the fact that much information about its content coverage remains unknown[26, 34].
In the present study, bibliometric indicators were used to describe scientific activity in the field of tobacco usage in 13 MEA countries during the last decade. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this is the first article to analyse the quantity and quality of tobacco-based research from the Arab world. Research indicators showed that research activity in this field was neglected in most MEA countries. This paper also adds to the emerging bibliometric literature within tobacco research[11, 13, 14]. Fight against tobacco smoking and search for effective tobacco cessation methods have been largely enhanced by the scientific work of the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group (CTAG), whose goal is to produce up-to-date and reliable systematic reviews of interventions for the cessation and prevention of tobacco use. By September 2013, the CTAG produced 68 full reviews about tobacco cessation in high-impact journals. Our study about the bibliometrics of tobacco use would uniquely add up to the CTAG efforts in combating tobacco control at the regional and the global level.
The total publications found in Scopus between 2003 and 2012 showed a yearly increase. Most countries experienced increases in the absolute number of documents produced in the field of tobacco over time. Tobacco research productivity has followed the general explosion in scientific productivity observed in the last decade and especially in recent years[8, 36, 37]. As can be seen in our study, the behaviour of every country was different. Our study showed that there were some countries, such as Egypt and KSA, where the total tobacco research productivity during this 10-year period was clearly higher than the remaining countries. This activity depends on population, socio-economic,or overall scientific activity of the country. Socio-economic aspects can also influence smoking rates within a different population[38, 39]. Several studies demonstrated that socio-economic factors, especially educational level, annual household income, and occupational class, have a strong influence on smoking behaviour[38, 39]. Therefore, it would have been more interesting to know how the growth of tobacco research in these countries differed in quality rather than in quantity, as shown by the h-index for each country. The preparation of quality research documents requires significant effort and time. Publishing high-quality research allows established researchers to be able to obtain further funding to support collaborative research and for young researchers to be more competitive in career advancement.
The number of articles with international collaboration was high. Besides the USA, countries from the MEA region with low scientific tobacco research would benefit from more collaboration with the European region because international collaboration articles with high citations per documents have been co-authored with researchers from these countries. Moreover, MEA authors mainly collaborated with authors from the USA, UK, Germany, Canada, India, and Japan. This may be because most MEA academics graduated from or were trained in these countries. Investigators who are open to collaborations and those who seem to adequately manage their collaborations produce a superior product that results in a higher impact and higher citation rates. The factors in favour of increasing collaborations internationally cannot be ignored; these are the results of easier access to public financing, opportunities to attain higher productivity, and aspirations for greater prestige and visibility resulting from collaboration with renowned research groups[3, 18, 42, 43].
In addition to these advantages of collaboration, follow-up research expertise of other countries, developed or developing, is another key factor for facilitating applicable and translatable research in countries that historically lack it. de Granda-Orive and colleagues examined scientific collaboration in the published literature on smoking over a5-year period. They found that the UK published the highest number of documents with international collaboration, followed by the USA and Germany, whereas the USA published the highest number of articles with inter-institutional collaboration, followed by the UK and France. Articles resulting from inter-institutional collaborations received a higher number of citations than those with no collaborations. Furthermore, Kusma and colleagues found that Canada and the USA are the leading cooperating countries. This was followed by the cooperation between Australia and the USA and the UK and the USA.
Institutions of higher learning, both public and private, dominated the top 10 productive institutions for research publications in the field of tobacco, indicating that institutions of higher learning were actively researching in the tobacco field and were successful in making their contributions visible through Scopus-indexed journals. This may be attributed to the emphasis by universities for academics to publish in journals indexed by the Scopus databases. Information about trends and productivity reveals the intellectual output of tobacco works published in Scopus and is useful to university administrators when evaluating yearly performance of university faculty in light of university ranking among various universities. This study reports on the most prolific authors from MEA countries with their affiliations and publication patterns, indicating their active roles as writers in the field of tobacco. In some MEA universities, promotional criteria required academics to show their active involvement in research, as reflected by the ranking of the most prolific authors in a certain field. Often, the Division of Research and Innovation will be asked by university administrators to provide such evidence, and the analysis of the names of productive authors becomes necessary.
To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first of its kind to obtain initial data regarding the publication and citation productivity of MEA countries in the tobacco field in the Scopus database, a database that is being used to evaluate the performance of institutes and their members. This study is not without limitations, most of which are the same as those of studies performed in other biomedical fields[22–25]. First of all, we used Scopus criteria for including tobacco-related keywords in our study. Articles published in non-Scopus-cited journals were not included, although they might contribute to scientific productivity. Another limitation is that some international journals do not recognise countries like Palestine as a separate country and publications from Palestine may be affiliated with Israel as a country. Therefore, some publications from Palestine might be missing from our analysis. Another limitation is that some articles did not point out tobacco and related terms in article titles; however, these terms were mentioned throughout the text. Therefore, it is possible that the number of publications analysed in this study did not exactly represent all tobacco-based research activity. Furthermore, some conference abstracts may be published by certain journals which may then be published in the same or different journals in a different year as original journal articles. Finally, it should be noted that research output for certain authors or institutions could have been under-estimated because of writing their English names differently in different articles. Therefore, such authors might have two or more author or institute profiles in Scopus because their names were written differently in different articles.